As the nation warily watches every Republican presidential candidate kiss the ring of billionaire donor Charles Koch for a shot at his network's $300,000,000 pool of presidential cash, Charles Koch did something unusual. Last week's USA Today interview with Charles Koch noted his shifting opinion on what he calls climate change “hysteria:”
For the record, Koch says this of climate change: “You can plausibly say that CO2 has contributed” to the planet's warming, but he sees “no evidence” to support “this theory that it's going to be catastrophic.”
Wait…Charles Koch just accepted that the planet is warming? Hold your applause.
Clearly, Mr. Koch still denies that there's a problem - which means he's missing the entire point of discussing climate change. But any movement from Charles on the 5 Stages of Climate Denial–from #1 down to #3–is a big deal. This is the same guy who has poured $80 million into organizations that have misrepresented climate change science to the public and advocated against any viable solutions to the problem.
Koch's Right-Hand-Man: “Charles is ahead of me on this.”
Last June, leaked recordings surfaced from Koch's regular meeting of millionaires and billionaires who are coordinating $889 million in spending around the 2016 election. Charles's Koch top strategist Richard Fink indicated that we may see a shift in Koch's rhetoric on climate change. Fink, aka “Charles Koch's Brain,” told attending prospective donors what they wanted to hear: donate to us, and we'll fight the crazy commie hippies and their pesky science. From the Undercurrent:
“The environmental movement. Occupy Wall Street. These kids are searching for meaning. They're protesting the 1 percent. They are the 1 percent, but they're protesting the 1 percent. The environmental movement and climate change. It's not about climate change. I studied climate change for six years. I can't figure it out, quite frankly. Charles is ahead of me on this. I'm not a climatologist, but I'm not completely stupid. I can tell you I meet with people, particularly in California, that are convinced the world is going to burn up in you know, a year or two. They don't know the answer – they don't even know the question, because it's not about climate change. It's about a cause. It gives their life meaning.”
For context, you should probably know that Fink told the room's billionaires that the minimum wage would lead to fascism, comparing today's low-income Americans to pre-Nazi Germany citizenry. Not exactly a room full of academics. And since one of the people that Mr. Fink 'meets with' was a scientist that he funded to study global temperature data, you have to wonder how much experience Rich Fink has with willful ignorance.
When Charles Koch Accidentally Proved Global Warming
Charles Koch cannot deny is that he's seen the global temperature record data. In 2011, through the Charles Koch Foundation (CKF), CKF president Richard Fink funded a high-profile study on global surface temperature data. This dataset, which was an unnecessarily redundant reproduction of several other similar studies, was constructed by a scientist who at the time was a climate change denier.
BEST data compared with previous reconstructions of global surface temperature data.
Dr. Richard Muller's Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Study (BEST) made headlines when he announced his acceptance of what climate scientists had already been saying for over 15 years–yes, people are responsible for unnatural climate variability that scientists have documented–and surprised the country by becoming an advocate for solutions to global warming.
This put Mr. Koch in an awkward spot. Koch's $150,000 grant to Dr. Muller made him the project's top single donor, and Muller was a celebrated skeptic before his dramatic change-of-heart.
Add to that Mr. Koch's background in science–a chemical engineering degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. For such an educated, celebrated albeit controversial high-society businessman, the refusal to acknowledge science that is understood by middle schoolers guaranteed to undermine the sensible reputation that Koch Industries has spent a lot of money to put out there.
But Charles gets no credit here. Dumping almost $80 million into organizations that have attacked the scientists who study climate change and interfered with virtually every proposed policy and regulation to solve global warming isn't being a science-savy CEO. It's being a denier, and especially in the context of a self-serving petrochemical billionaire, that's pretty offensive to the rest of us.
We define climate change denial as “anyone who is obstructing, delaying or trying to derail policy steps that are in line with the scientific consensus that says we need to take rapid steps to decarbonize the economy.” Mr. Koch remains a staunch denier in that regard.
Why focus on Charles Koch and David Koch? Many large foundations associated with corporate fortunes are active in financing climate denial groups - Anschutz, Bradley, Coors, DeVos, Dunn, Howard, Pope, Scaife, Searle, and Seid, to name a few. Unlike Koch, most of those fortunes did not come from owning a corporation like Koch Industries, historically rooted in fossil fuel operations. And none come as close as the Kochs in terms of decades-long focus on actively building a political influence network and coordinating other wealthy executives, corporations and families to dump amounts money into politics that not even the Koch brothers could afford.
Check out Greenpeace.org for more research on the Koch brothers crusade against climate science.